Do scifi/fantasy movies really suck?

Posted by asterphage 
I saw John Carter last weekend, encouraged by reports of the strength of its effects and the fact that I hadn't seen a "big" movie in a while, and I was pleasantly surprised. The film looks great, it's fun, and it's frequently funny in a way I didn't expect. The only thing really wrong with it is that the pacing is often slow and the dialogue is explainy. I'm really bummed that it's doing so badly, because it doesn't deserve to be the biggest failure in cinema history.


I posted a longer ambivalent apologia for it here:
[plus.google.com]
if anyone cares what else I think.

-Paul Segal

"Oh, the anger is never far, never far." -SteveH
When was the last "good" SF movie? And by that I don't mean good because the special effects were good, or it was a fun action flick. IE: no matter what you say, I am not going to acknowledge any opinion that a Transformers movie was a "good" one. And, no, Avatar isn't good either. Yeah, these are obvious pans, but really what was the last really good one?

I'd have to go a long way back to, say, Gattaca. I'm sure there are many gripes about it, but it's a real SF film in my mind. Not an action flick dressed up in SF clothes.

More serious than thou
Attack the Block. Scrappy little english film from last year with a really basic plot but some damn nice character building.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/21/2012 11:35PM by Kwesi K..
I thoroughly enjoyed John Carter myself and have started reading the first book. I'm about half way through and I totally understand why the movie tries to include so much. The book has Carter on Mars for months before setting foot near Helium. A great deal of the book also is spent breaking down the details of Martian life. How the Tharks live, how their guns work, how he learned their language, etc. Carter is also portrayed as a mega badass from the very first page. Nothing surprises him and he'll fight anyone because he's also a southern gentleman who will always protect a pretty lady. I think the movie works very well because they 'realed' up the Carter character and still tried to keep the old pulp feel of the books.
MSW
Besides Attack the Block their is Moon:
[www.youtube.com]

Another one from the same director Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) called Source Code:
[www.youtube.com]

More of a drama, but quite good. Another Earth:
[www.youtube.com]

More of a fantasy film, but excellent. Ink:
[www.youtube.com]

And the smartest science fiction film I've ever seen. Primer:
[www.youtube.com]
I just have to chuckle at how Michael Bay is now going to ruin TMNT the same way he ruined Transformers, all the way to the bank apparently.

Cuz, see, the toitles wuz alienz all alongz...Jar Jar times FOUR!!! That ought to be grand! Giordano's pizza for everyone!!!
I just have to chuckle at how Michael Bay is now going to ruin TMNT the same way he ruined Transformers, all the way to the bank apparently.

Cuz, see, the toitles wuz alienz all alongz...Jar Jar times FOUR!!! That ought to be grand! Giordano's pizza for everyone!!! Of course it's a deep dish pie filled with POO!

(sorry, I double posted...the poo filled deep dish pie comment just came to me as I hit enter...it was worth it.)



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/22/2012 12:15AM by Supersentai.
"When was the last "good" SF movie?"

District 9

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I asked if I have "Time For L-Gaim" but I got "No Reply From The Wind".
FOOK

cat food
VF5SS Wrote:
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> FOOK
>
> cat food


Awww, I liked District 9. It maybe wasn't incredible, but I thought it managed to be both fun and actually good.

I'll second Moon as well... cannot recommend that film highly enough.

Introducing Prometheus Rising Studio.
[prometheusrising.net]
I make 3D printed mecha action figures.
I like D9 too

but i also like to fook
Sanjeev (Admin)
Children of Men? Thought it was aiight...

Anyway, I think my main beef with a lot of mainstream scifi these days is that, as has been stated already, too much of it is action dressed up in unspecial-special effects.

Special effects have always been an important component of scifi flicks...but not so much anymore. Most every scifi movie nowadays uses mundane CG effects. Don't get me wrong--they look great...but they're not special. So now that effects are no longer something that you can really hang a movie on, you have to make it all actiony (like the new Star Trek) or focus on compelling plot/characters (District 9, Children of Men, and the like).

I've always preferred the latter, but it's kind of a shame that fun stuff like Harryhausen's Clash of the Titans (I know, not scifi...but you get the idea) will likely never be seen again...
The problem is that so many of the truly literate science fiction stories today are essentially philosophical fiction. Children of Men certainly was - the film made it more about the fate of mankind, but the novel is about... well, it's hard to put into words, but I'd say it's about the choice between brutality and despair when faced with an inexorable threat. The film had to break out of the sense of malaise inherent in its setting, so it compensated with action.

I haven't seen Another Earth, but it also seems more philosophical than anything else.

I still haven't seen Primer, to my great shame (I was going to watch it on Netflix Instant, when it was unexpectedly removed!) but it seems to be widely considered the smartest SF movie in a long time. I really need to see it, and then I can come back to this thread and rave about it.

Moon is a really enjoyable film but it's so full of plot holes and illogic that I mostly appreciate it for the miniatures work and the character development. Source Code did better in this regard, but was more about the process than the concept. I hope Duncan Jones keeps going and gives us something truly revolutionary.

Same for Neill Blomkamp - District 9 had an absolutely brilliant first half hour, but really lost itself in the action later on. Which is fine, for what it was - Blomkamp had to prove himself as a director, and a straight sci-fi drama might have come off as preachy. I'm really excited to see what he does next, in the hopes he can integrate his ideas throughout the movie with a more even tone and pace.

The problem with sci-fi film is the inevitable conflict between idea and entertainment. The more pervasive ideas are in a movie, the more work it takes to capture the audience's attention - and hardcore SF fanboys can always get better-developed ideas from a novel than a film. I think the genre is on an upswing, though - with new directors like Jones and Blomkamp, we've got the promise of films in the future that integrate the contradictory aspects of Hollywood sci-fi better than before.

-Paul Segal

"Oh, the anger is never far, never far." -SteveH
MSW
Primer is on YouTube, here is the link to the whole film:
[www.youtube.com]
Vincent Z. Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> "When was the last "good" SF movie?"
>
> District 9

Yeah, a lot of people say that. I saw it and was not really all that impressed. Lots of scenes with shouting and guns and people blowing up don't make a good movie. It has some ideas, sure, but were they well played out in it? Nah, not IMO. I can see where other people will like it, it's just not all that.

Yes, novels tell a SF story SOOOOO much better than the movies can these days. "Real" SF is all about ideas, and as such it's hard to get those onto a screen. Fantasy is much easier to film and have it come off well.

I need to see Moon as films about lonely despairing circumstances are right up my alley. At least, I like films and stories that have that feel. I really liked Gunbuster because of that. Yes, the ending is a good one - for humanity - but the fact that the heroes have to return, what, hundreds? thousands? of years later to a world that does at least remember them incredibly fondly, but they have to live knowing that nobody they knew, or their children, or their grandchildren, is alive anymore. Eh, I'm getting off topic here.

I keep watching films occasionally as they come out to see if I actually like anything out there, but the more action there is in a SF film the less likely I am to enjoy it. It's a genre that I've kind of written off, possibly unfairly.

More serious than thou
Sanjeev Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Children of Men? Thought it was aiight...
>

> I've always preferred the latter, but it's kind of
> a shame that fun stuff like Harryhausen's Clash of
> the Titans (I know, not scifi...but you get the
> idea) will likely never be seen again...

Dude, the problem is, we can all look back and see the good in films where the special effects are laughable by today's standards, but other people can't. Do I enjoy the hell out of old Jon Pertwee Doctor Who? Damn straight! Harryhousen films, Godzilla, etc... Yeah, nobody's EVER going to make those films again.

For example in another genre - the Fantastic Mr Fox. Stop motion/puppet animation. Nicely done from that standpoint. But not done for the reasons that someone would have done it in the past - a practical way to tell a story that couldn't be told with live-action characters. It came across more as an artsy way to portray something that could now easily be done with more modern tech. It wasn't done ironically, but on a spectrum of feelings, it gives me that vibe.

I guess that if part of what enchants you about a type of movie is tied up in the methodology of how the visuals came about, you're going to get left behind. So, in my stodgy old way of viewing things, modern CGI films and techniques really just mean a movie is going to suck compared to, say, something with latex rubber mask Admiral Ackbar.

More serious than thou
Sanjeev (Admin)
I tend to agree...just perhaps less vehemently. Like, I have NO problem with CG effects. I just recognize that they're not special...'cause that shit is just so cheap and accessible (or so it seems based on their ubiquity).

I definitely LOVE model animation stuff like Harryhausen's work, and I definitely LOVE man-in-rubber-suit stuff like kaiju eiga. But it's not like I hated Peter Jackson's King Kong or Joon-ho Bong's The Host for having CG effects.

I think that a lot of people have a certain affinity to *real* things. Solid objects. Mechanisms, miniatures, levers, and pulleys. CG can be astoundingly realistic in 2D...but at the end of the day, it's just a glorified cartoon...and I think most people subconsciously register that. "Real" effects involving solid objects and real explosions often look far less refined, but I think that stuff tickles the hands-on do-it-yourselfer in many of us. Like, someone took the time to build that miniature city Godzilla is stomping on! That's ludicrous by today's film-making standards! And yet there's a charm to it that appeals to lots of people.
fujikuro Wrote:
> I keep watching films occasionally as they come
> out to see if I actually like anything out there,
> but the more action there is in a SF film the less
> likely I am to enjoy it. It's a genre that I've
> kind of written off, possibly unfairly.

I don't think it's unfair at all. I think it's a completely rational preference.


fujikuro Wrote:
> For example in another genre - the Fantastic Mr
> Fox. Stop motion/puppet animation. Nicely done
> from that standpoint. But not done for the
> reasons that someone would have done it in the
> past - a practical way to tell a story that
> couldn't be told with live-action characters. It
> came across more as an artsy way to portray
> something that could now easily be done with more
> modern tech. It wasn't done ironically, but on a
> spectrum of feelings, it gives me that vibe.

Certainly it was motivated by nostalgia, but the level of craft was so high, the characters so expressive, that I couldn't help but be charmed by it.

Also, the intriguing thing about Mr. Fox is that the more you think about it, the less it seems like the conclusion of the story actually resolved anything.


Sanjeev Wrote:
> but I think that stuff tickles the
> hands-on do-it-yourselfer in many of us. Like,
> someone took the time to build that miniature city
> Godzilla is stomping on! That's ludicrous by
> today's film-making standards! And yet there's a
> charm to it that appeals to lots of people.

I don't think the time investment is really a distinction between model building and CG effects... certainly the time taken and the skill and attention to detail involved are comparable.

The difference is in the type of skill involved - certainly there's as much potential for connection between someone who programs or 3d-models as a hobby and 3dcg effects as there is between someone who model-builds and miniatures effects, or between someone who draws and traditional animation. I think with the technology used in computer effects becoming more accessible, and the level of skill seen in professional effects going up, it becomes easier for fans to connect with it the same way others do to traditional effects.

Of course, the miniature city still retains that ineffable cachet of a real physical object that was built entirely so that its destruction could be captured as an image. But I think that sense of its physical actuality and its transience is something we regard on a different level than the skill and time it took to make it.

-Paul Segal

"Oh, the anger is never far, never far." -SteveH
Sanjeev (Admin)
We're saying the same thing...I'm just not saying it as eloquently! ;)

I didn't mean to imply that building a physical miniature city--just to photograph while destroying--takes longer or a higher degree of skill than the CG equivalent. Also, I don't think miniature modelers and CG modelers are doomed never to have peace.

And I haven't really ever thought of transience versus investment before. Interesting point. But either way, I just like it when real shit gets blowed up...rather than a cartoon of it!
Is it too much to place a lot of hope on Ridley Scott's upcoming sort of Alien prequel, "Prometheus"? The trailers so far have all looked fantastic.
Sanjeev Wrote:
>
> And I haven't really ever thought of transience
> versus investment before. Interesting point.

I actually wouldn't have even thought to bring it up without "Like, someone took the time to build that miniature city Godzilla is stomping on! That's ludicrous by today's film-making standards!"

Another element of craft that distinguishes model-building is "kitbashing". The repurposing of household items in Star Wars ship props (and straight on through to the spray-painted takeout containers on the walls of the Sarang base in Moon)... the things they use for snow, for smoke, for fire... that reinforces the hobbyist's feeling that what they're seeing on screen is akin to what they're doing in their basement in a different way than animation or 3d cg can.

-Paul Segal

"Oh, the anger is never far, never far." -SteveH
MSW
Speaking of model effects, check out this new documentary:
[www.youtube.com]
Sanjeev (Admin)
^^ That looks hot. Definitely wanna check that out...
[www.avclub.com]

Start listening to this podcast at 29:00 for Tasha Robinson's wonderful explanation of what she THOUGHT the first Transformers movie would be like based on its trailer.

"If you go back and watch that trailer, it makes it look like aliens. The robots don't speak, they're just these giant, looming, horrific figures. Shia LaBeouf never speaks, he's running around like a character in a Spielberg film, looking terrified and awestruck at all times. The trailer really strongly emphasizes the sense of fear that you would have facing a gigantic robot when you're a small, squishy little human, and that was what always struck me and interested me about that robot vs. human dynamic. And then you get the movie, and it's just nonstop slapstick comedy and sex comedy."

She also specifically calls out the "Are you LadiesMan217?" scene as something that's tremendously intimidating without words, but is undermined by comedy once the dialogue is present.

There are these tiny moments of that in the movie (weirdly, they mostly involve Blackout, such as the footage of him on Mars and his opening attack on the military base). But can you imagine if a movie like Transformers was actually about aliens? Genuinely incomprehensible nonhuman entities?

...Or would that just be Returner?

-Paul Segal

"Oh, the anger is never far, never far." -SteveH
The first movie could have been a very good one. There are one or two scenes that cold really grab you - the one with Barricade menacing Sam in a parking garage? was really tense. But they really blew it with bad writing, pacing, etc. The elements for a good film were there - they just didn't decide to go that route. They went instead for the lowest of the low brow and that brought in the bucks. Some filmmakers focus on telling good stories, some on making money, and this was a case of the latter far more than the former.

More serious than thou
And explosions. Don't forget the explosions.

EXPLOSIONS.

/Michael Bay
MSW
asterphage Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> [www.avclub.com]
> 0480/
>
> Start listening to this podcast at 29:00 for Tasha
> Robinson's wonderful explanation of what she
> THOUGHT the first Transformers movie would be like
> based on its trailer.
>
> "If you go back and watch that trailer, it makes
> it look like aliens. The robots don't speak,
> they're just these giant, looming, horrific
> figures. Shia LaBeouf never speaks, he's running
> around like a character in a Spielberg film,
> looking terrified and awestruck at all times. The
> trailer really strongly emphasizes the sense of
> fear that you would have facing a gigantic robot
> when you're a small, squishy little human, and
> that was what always struck me and interested me
> about that robot vs. human dynamic. And then you
> get the movie, and it's just nonstop slapstick
> comedy and sex comedy."



What!? The very same trailer ends with a sequence in which a very calm little girl watches a 30 foot robot emerge from a swimming pool!! How the fuck do you get Aliens from that?
fujikuro Wrote:
>
> The first movie could have been a very good one.
> There are one or two scenes that cold really grab
> you - the one with Barricade menacing Sam in a
> parking garage? was really tense.

Indeed, that's the LadiesMan217 scene.

In the end, the movie was such a mess that I ended up liking the jokey parts more than the dramatic ones. It looked like a serious, tense action movie in some ways, but in the end the tone came off more like the old G1 cartoon.


MSW Wrote:
>
>
> What!? The very same trailer ends with a sequence
> in which a very calm little girl watches a 30 foot
> robot emerge from a swimming pool!! How the fuck
> do you get Aliens from that?

First of all, I'm pretty sure she said "aliens", like the word itself, not "Aliens" like the movie.

But more importantly- As I recall, when the trailer came out, no one knew what character that was in the pool, whether it was an Autobot or a Decepticon. I found that sequence pretty threatening when I first saw the trailer.

-Paul Segal

"Oh, the anger is never far, never far." -SteveH
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